WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Fighting for custody of his two children in 2008, Clem Beauchamp preached of the meaning of fatherhood, extolled his parenting skills and told of how he helped with homework and gave life lessons.
So compelling was his combination of self-promotion and denigration of the children's mother, the court awarded him custody, though it was short-lived. A judge rescinded the order about a year later when Beauchamp wasn't complying with the terms.
When the mother was given custody again, Beauchamp was deemed "willing to manipulate the stability of his children" in a July 22, 2010 order. The judge said Beauchamp needed to do what was best for the children "rather than acting upon his need to be able to control whatever situation he wants to control."
Now those two children he fought so hard to keep are in the state's custody and two others who lived with Beauchamp are dead, found stuffed in luggage last week and dumped in a Delray Beach canal. Their mother is dead, too, finally identified after her body was found in a landfill in August. Though Beachamp has not been charged in the deaths, authorities say he is the sole suspect in all three killings.
Beauchamp is being held on firearms charges unrelated to the deaths of 10-year-old Jermaine McNeil, 6-year-old Ju'tyra Allen and 25-year-old Felicia Brown. He appeared in court Wednesday, where a judge refused to grant him bond or to appoint him a public defender, but was largely silent. The tomes of case files related to his custody battle, however, reveal much.
In an Aug. 26, 2008, hearing in West Palm Beach, Beauchamp described himself as a hard-working, involved father who dropped his then-7-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son off at school and helped them with their assignments.
"Being a father means more than just making the kid," he told the judge. "You actually got to be there for them. And I'm prepared to do all that."
At the time, Beauchamp described the mother of those children — his on-again, off-again girlfriend Michelle Dent — as irresponsible, saying she often went missing, used drugs, and concocted a mental disability for a son to get Social Security benefits.
Dent denied all the accusations.
Brown, then his fiance, even spoke highly of Beauchamp when he called her as a witness.
Addressing Dent, Brown said: "He gave you chance after chance, you know, to change and do things better."
"He was tired of them being outside all times of night. Tired of him trying to take them home and no one is there. Tired of them crying and complaining about they're hungry."
The judge later agreed, saying in May 2009 the children should live with Beauchamp, and ordered that he no longer pay child support to Dent. But a year later, when Beachamp failed to follow the order to allow the children to see Dent on the weekends, the court reversed its decision, saying they should live with their mother.
The order didn't last long. Brown soon disappeared — Beauchamp told neighbors she was in jail — and neighbors said Dent began staying at his home with their children and Brown's children.
Hundreds of pages of testimony and other documents from the custody battle offer morsels of other information about Beauchamp, his complicated web of relationships and the series of crimes both he and the women in his life were accused of committing.
Beauchamp told the judge at the 2008 hearing he worked an overnight shift for about four years at a Walmart, but was fired in February 2006 after falling asleep in his car while on a break. He said he later worked as a landscaper and car detailer.
He was just 16 and Dent was only 13 when their son was born. They broke up in 2004, but "we still was sneaking and seeing each other," Dent said. He considered himself the disciplinarian, concerned by his daughter's provocative dancing and short skirts and the prospects for his son, who he said was on the path to being a drug dealer.
Beauchamp sometimes fell behind on child support payments for months, Dent said. And she accused him of using drugs, despite his denials, saying "he smoke weed and it be everywhere in his house."
Still, neighbors interviewed last week said he had appeared to be a good dad, and was often seen tossing a football with his son in the street. And even the woman he was fighting for custody didn't deny his love for his children.
"I never kept my kids away from him because I know he love them and they love him, too," Dent said.
On Wednesday, Beauchamp stood with his hands folded at the courtroom lectern, then sat and listened as a prosecutor outlined the charges against him, including an added one of being a felon in possession of a firearm.
Beauchamp asked the judge to release him on bond. "I've lived in Palm Beach County all my life. I don't own a passport. I'm not a danger to the community," Beauchamp said.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Linnea Johnson disagreed. "He is both a risk of flight and a danger to the community. No bond," she said.
Twenty miles south, in Delray Beach, Brown's grandmother prepared to bury the young woman and her young children. Overcome with grief, she wailed when she tried to talk and had to be led away by priests.
"This hurts me so bad," Barbara Flint said. "I don't have the words to say."